THE Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, the Revd Mervyn Gibson, and members of the Order from south of the border met the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the Irish Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee TD, in Dublin, on Monday.
Items on the agenda included Protestant schools, infrastructure, and culture, and a brief discussion of Brexit.
Mr Gibson and Mr Varadkar first met when the latter became the first serving Taoiseach to visit the Orange Order Museum during a visit to Belfast in June.
High on the agenda at the Dublin meeting were proposals for shared tourism initiatives, including a “Williamite Trail”, which would trace the 17th-century campaign from Antrim, in Northern Ireland, to Aughrim; and an expansion and upgrade of the famous Battle of the Boyne site, near Drogheda, both in the Republic. The current needs of Protestants living in border areas were also raised.
Mr Varadkar, who helped to fund the reconstruction of an Orange Hall, in Donegal, after an arson attack this year, said after the meeting: “The colours on our flag are white, orange, and green in equal measure. Sometimes, I feel that we haven’t fully lived up to that.”
He noted that the Good Friday Agreement acknowledged that citizens in Northern Ireland had the right to be British, Irish, or both. “We should acknowledge that there are many people in our state that feel themselves to be both British and Irish. It’s something that we should accept, too.” Irish administrations should “build bridges, not borders”, he said.
He continued: “I strongly believe that states can best be judged on how they treat minorities. This visit [on Monday] is another step in an ongoing engagement between the government and the Order. We must always keep channels of communication open as a basis for respectful discussion on matters of common interest.”